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Wisconsin Trial Lawyer: Too Much Immunity

The Wisconsin legislature has granted immunity to too many businesses in the past few years, according to a trial lawyer. (WI Assembly)
The Wisconsin legislature has granted immunity to too many businesses in the past few years, according to a trial lawyer. (WI Assembly)
March 9, 2016

STEVENS POINT, Wis. - Immunity is a "get out of jail free" card, says Stevens Point trial attorney Russ Golla, who believes the state legislature has given out far too many, nearly 40, to businesses and industries in recent years.

He says immunity means even if wrongdoers were clearly careless and took safety shortcuts, they can't be held responsible for their conduct.

"Giving an immunity gives the entity, and usually their employees that are covered by it, an absolute path to not exercise reasonable care, to not look into what they're doing," says Golla. "You have no incentive to do it any more."

The business owners argue the threat of a lawsuit drives up their cost of business, which is why they need immunity.

But Golla, who is president of the Wisconsin Association for Justice, says there has never been any evidence that's true.

Golla says the legislature has passed dozens of unnecessary immunity laws in the past few years. He says if businesses focused on safety as much as they worry about being sued, he and his colleagues would have a lot more free time on their hands.

Golla says some of the broadest immunities are granted for recreational activities.

"If anybody is engaging in a recreational activity," says Golla. "There is immunity for anyone that is around that causes harm to another engaging in recreational activity."

Golla points out under Wisconsin law, if you're wounded at a shooting range, anyone who works there is immune and you get the medical bills. If you're hurt while horseback riding, the stable is immune.

Several years ago the city of Kenosha hired lifeguards without checking their skills.

Two boys drowned but the city had immunity, even though the lifeguard on duty was worried that fish would attack her if she went into the water.

According to Golla, this recent trend of granting immunity laws can be traced back to the Supreme Court's Citizens United decision, which he says turned our political system into legalized bribery via campaign donations.

"You can pay a legislator or a group of legislators to adopt a law protecting your special interest. You end up with a scenario where people can buy immunity," says Golla.

Tim Morrissey, Public News Service - WI